I hate ivy. I really do. I didn’t always feel this way about it. I used to like it and think it was pretty, especially on the sides of old stone buildings. But that was before. Before I owned a home with an acre of land that is almost completely ringed on three sides with ivy.
What I have learned since I moved into this house is that ivy may look pretty, but it is actually destructive. This is especially true, in my yard at least, with ivy and trees. One day I was mowing our back yard and as I went by one area, I noticed that it looked different. When I went back to inspect it later, I realized it was different because a tree had fallen over! Thankfully it wasn’t too big of a tree, and the only damage was a dented fence. What had happened was that ivy had killed the tree. I had no idea it was happening. Because with the ivy going up the side of it, I just saw a tree and green and so I assumed that it was healthy. But it turns out that the ivy was actually killing it from the inside out. When I found the fallen tree, it was completely hollow inside, ready to easily fall over in any summer thunderstorm.
Ever since then, I think about ivy a lot. We have a lot of trees that I know are beyond hope. In fact, we lost two more this winter because of ivy. The rest of them I fight to keep alive by keeping the ivy off of them. As I have spent a lot (A LOT!) of time thinking about ivy, I have realized that it is a good analogy for sin. Just like ivy, sin looks really pretty, but it is an illusion because when you let it start to wrap around you, it is destructive. And it will do it from the inside out. You may be able to look good on the outside; fooling others and maybe even yourself into thinking that everything is OK. But the sin in your life will still be destroying you no matter how much you try to cover it up on the outside
I have tried multiple ways to get rid of ivy. I imagine there is some easy spray out there that works, but I haven’t found it yet even though I keep trying. The only way I have found that works is to pull it out by hand and make sure the roots are gone. Sin is the same way. You can’t just try a little bit to uproot it out of your life. Trust me – just spraying the spiritual equivalent of RoundUp won’t work. Instead, you have to be willing to go deep, go to the root, and rip it out. Jesus talked about the need for such radical action when He said “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you;” and, “ If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you;”. (Matthew 5:29-30) You may think He was being extreme, but as the One who created us, He knows us better than anyone and He knows what it takes to fight and conquer sin.
I wish it were enough to just pull out ivy once and be done. Boy, do I wish that were true! But my experience in my yard is that I have to be vigilant. The stuff is stubborn and doesn’t give up quickly or easily! So I keep my eyes peeled for it as I walk around the yard. And when I see it, even just a small sprout of it, I pull it out immediately. Then there are the healthy trees where the ivy keeps encroaching. Those I go look at on a regular basis because I know it will be back – the roots were too deep to get them all – and I keep fighting and yanking it off those trees to keep them alive.
My ongoing vigilance in our yard is the same thing I need to do in my life. I can’t be complacent about sin. I have to address it quickly and deal with it whatever it is. Flee the temptation or get it out of my sight, confess to a friend, apologize to someone I have wronged. Don’t let it even begin to take root. There are also areas of my life where I have seen victory but the roots were deep, and I always have to look out for new growth. Pride will always be one of these for me. As Song of Solomon 2:15 says, I try to “catch the foxes . . . the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards.”
Honestly, every time I mow the yard and face the ring of ivy around the edges that seems to never take a break from growing, I feel overwhelmed. I know that I don’t have the physical strength to pull all of that ivy out of the ground. But, thankfully, this is where the analogy breaks down! That is because God has given me His Holy Spirit to strengthen me and enable me to persevere in fighting sin and saying “No” to temptation. My old self was crucified with Christ so that I should no longer be a slave to sin. Instead I can be free from it. (Romans 6:6) While I still have my old nature and will always sin, I can know the joy of becoming more like Christ as He sanctifies me.
I pray I will hate the sin I see in me more than I hate ivy that surrounds my yard and that I will never give up fighting it, striving to be more like Christ everyday in the power of the Holy Spirit.